UNLV foes are nothing more than shark bait hTC Analysis


Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams and their basketball teams will have all week to answer the following question:

Which is worse: spending the weekend in Indianapolis, or spending the weekend in Indianapolis with Jerry Tarkanian?

North Carolina, Duke and Kansas will have to prove that this weekend's Final Four, to convene Saturday at the Hoosier Dome, won't just be one big testimonial to Nevada-Las Vegas, the overwhelming favorite to capture its second straight national title.

In fact, the biggest question appears not to be who can beat UNLV, but who can come close to the Runnin' Rebels as they attempt to become the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to march to the crown undefeated.

Duke, which lost the title game to UNLV 103-73 last year, gets the first crack, meeting the Rebels in a rematch in the second semifinal Saturday.

"Vegas is a great team and in order to beat them, it will take a monumental effort," said Krzyzewski. "But, who knows? We'll play them and see what happens."

At any rate, here's a look at the four finalists:

DUKE (30-7):

* CREDENTIALS: Champion of the Midwest Regional and the second seed in the region. Won the ACC regular-season crown and beat fellow Final Four participant North Carolina twice, before getting shelled by the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament final.

* THE ROAD TAKEN: The Blue Devils beat Northeast Louisiana 102-73, Iowa 85-70, Connecticut 81-67 and St. John's 78-61 to advance to their fourth consecutive Final Four and the fifth trip in the last six years.

* WHO'S WHO: Unlike last year, when Duke had three seniors to carry the load, the Blue Devils are centered around their big man, junior center Christian Laettner. Bobby Hurley has added some scoring to his point guard skills in his second year. Sophomore Thomas Hill stepped into the starting lineup at midseason and has become one of the best finishers on the fastbreak in college basketball.

* WORTH NOTING: Krzyzewski ties Houston's Guy Lewis for fourth among coaches in Final Four appearances, with five, and is second to UCLA's John Wooden for most consecutive trips.

* OUTLOOK: This collection of Blue Devils is younger than the group that was swamped by the Rebels last year in Denver. There are three consolations for the Blue Devils. One, they'll probably get back next year. Two, they won't have to hear comparisons between themselves and the Broncos as teams that get to the championship game and can't win. And three, the Tar Heels won't win it either.

KANSAS (26-7):

* CREDENTIALS: Champion of the Southeast Regional and the third seed there. Shared the Big Eight's regular-season title with Oklahoma State. Hasn't played any of the other Final Four teams this year, but notched a 105-94 victory over North Carolina State, which beat both Duke and North Carolina.

* THE ROAD TAKEN: The Jayhawks beat New Orleans 55-49, Pittsburgh 77-66, Indiana 83-65 and Arkansas 93-81 to qualify for their third Final Four in the last six years. Kansas won it all in 1988, beating Oklahoma 83-79.

* WHO'S WHO: Kansas is deep and experienced with three seniors: Forwards Mark Randall and Mike Maddox anchor the inside and guard Terry Brown lights up the outside. Junior transfer Alonzo Jamison has played well in the tournament and was Most Valuable Player of the regional, and sophomore Adonis Jordan has run the offense well.

* WORTH NOTING: Williams is attempting to become the 13th coach to win the national championship on his first trip to the Final Four.

* OUTLOOK: Randall and Maddox were both freshmen on the 1988 title team, so they know what it takes to win at this level. The Jayhawks are as deep as North Carolina, their semifinal opponent, and are playing as well as any team east of Las Vegas. Whether Williams has the savvy to beat his mentor, Smith, is another story.


* CREDENTIALS: Champion of the East Regional, where it was the top seed. Won the ACC tournament title, beating Duke handily, after losing to Blue Devils twice in the regular season.

* THE ROAD TAKEN: North Carolina beat Northeastern 101-66, Villanova 84-69, Eastern Michigan 93-67 and Temple 75-72 to advance to its first Final Four since 1982, when the Tar Heels beat Georgetown in the championship game, 63-62, on a Michael Jordan jumper.

* WHO'S WHO: North Carolina has lots of senior leadership, with versatile forward Rick Fox, durable center Pete Chilcutt and much maligned point guard King Rice, who is playing the best basketball of his career in this tournament.

* WORTH NOTING: Smith is making his eighth trip to the Final Four, ranking him below John Wooden's 12. If the Tar Heels beat Kansas, Smith will pass Wooden for most tournament wins ever at 48.

* OUTLOOK: This North Carolina squad is as deep and as talented as any of Smith's teams have been since the '82 title squad. Chilcutt, Fox and Hubert Davis give the Tar Heels a nice inside/outside combination and Rice, dare we say it, is now living up to Smith's expectations. But they're no match for UNLV, should they get past Kansas.


* CREDENTIALS: Champion of the West Regional and the No. 1 %% team in the country. Currently working on 45-game winning streak. Hasn't played any of the other Final Four participants this year, but beat Arkansas, which lost to Kansas in the Southeast final.

* THE ROAD TAKEN: UNLV beat Montana 99-65, Georgetown 62-54, Utah 83-66 and Seton Hall 77-65 to reach its fourth Final Four, and the third in the last five years., with a championship over Duke last year.

* WHO'S WHO: Start with All-America forwards Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, who may be the best two players in the country. Then there are the guards, senior Greg Anthony and junior Anderson Hunt, perhaps the best backcourt combination in the country. Then there are bookend centers George Ackles and Elmore Spencer.

* WORTH NOTING: In NCAA history, 16 teams have entered the tournament undefeated. The Rebels are attempting to become only the seventh team to finish the season undefeated.

* OUTLOOK: The big question coming into the tournament was how the Rebels would adjust to the twin pressures of having to defend their title and knowing that everyone would be gunning for them. The answer is quite nicely, thank you. They've played virtually every style and succeeded. Now, it's time for the victors to enjoy the spoils.


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